Published by Agnes on the 22nd April 2023
Things are cooking, and we have decided to start working on our very own digital assistant. Find out more about the project and how you can get involved here…
As we find ourselves in the midst of the digital revolution, things are accelerating at increasing speed. Whether it's self-driving cars, Alpha Go or ChatGPT... It's not just the tech-nerds who are freaking out over the huge strides being made in the field of technology. Even the fishermen in the Brazilian village I live in are experiencing technological acceleration anxiety.
Of course, part of this is due to the usual media-hype and the general overwhelm our generation is experiencing in light of a rapidly moving reality. But it isn't just hype. The digital revolution really has started accelerating at a speed that is way too fast for our human brains and consciousness.
As founders of a travel platform, it is part of our job to try and keep track of what is going on in the field of technology and anticipate the future. In light of recent developments, we have become convinced that personal digital assistants are going to be part of our day-to-day reality sooner than anticipated.
If I tried to explain what we mean by “personal digital assistant”, I would tell you to imagine it like a personal assistant who takes care of your schedule, correspondence, bookkeeping and much more. You can ask him to arrange a meeting, book your next trip, prepare your next work presentation or remind you to pick your kids up from school. The only difference: Said assistant isn't a human being, but something called a Large Language Learning Model.
If you are like me, the very word “Large Language Learning Model” may cause you to stop reading this article.
Please read on.
I promise to get to the point as quickly and tech-jargon free as possible.
In my view, the clear answer is: Yes! What makes me even more confident, is that my tech savvy co-founder Mark believes the same.
We are already using technology to manage large parts of our day-to-day life. Digital assistants are just the next step in a process that has already started a long time ago.
Most recently, ChatGPT has shown us how much Large Language Models can already do. And as the technology we have built up to this point is already able to take a large part of our workload off our shoulders, we will be making ever larger strides as we move into the future.
Of course, there are still a few details to figure out, but we live in a time, where we no longer need to ask ourselves whether something can be built. Instead, we should be asking ourselves what should be built.
But what if we have already passed the point of no return?
Based on our analysis, it is only a question of time until the big tech companies start releasing digital assistants. And due to the accelerating developments in the field of technology, that time span could be a lot shorter than expected.
While it would be a lot more relaxing to bury our head in the sand and let “them” figure it out, we have become convinced that we cannot leave this topic to big tech. Instead, we need to take responsibility for the reality we want to see in the future.
Stay ahead in today's fast-evolving technological landscape. In this article, we discuss large language models and the perils of tech monopolies. By taking responsibility for co-creating a better world, we can tap into the solutions all around us.Let's take back control
We have already seen what Google, Facebook and others have done with our personal data. We have also seen the majority of the internet turned into a marketplace. Whether it's Google Search, Instagram, Facebook or the many apps on our phone, it seems that the entire digital world is trying to get us to click that link and buy.
Based on evidence of the past and present, it is more than likely that a digital assistant supplied to us by big tech would be nothing more than a ploy to get us to hand over the last shreds of privacy and freedom we have managed to hold on to. It would simply turn us even more easily manipulable passive consumers.
It would be like having a human assistant who pretends to be working for you, but actually passes on all your private information to anyone who'll pay for it and manipulates you into doing and buying things you don't want.
While some of us may feel like throwing all our digital devices into the water and hiding out in the forest until it's all over (believe me, I've been there), I believe that we need to take responsibility for our present and future.
We have therefore decided to build an open-source alternative that is personally owned by the human being using it. It would mean that all the data said digital assistant collects on you would be safely stored on your phone (or some other digital device), instead of being abused and sold on.
The reason the digital assistant we want to build most be both open-source and personally owned is to avoid a tech monopoly while giving people the option of buying a personal digital assistant that actually works for them.
As co-founders of a travel platform, we decided to use our own use-case as a testing ground. So, we will start off by creating a digital assistant that will help our staff, partners and travellers take care of all the “boring” bits of travel, like booking flights and accommodations. That way, we can spend less time looking at the screen and more time going out into the world and connecting to it without any technical intermediary.
At its best, travel can serve as a key that opens our hearts and makes us see the beauty that lies in the diversity of our nature and culture. In our view, freedom of movement and an unmediated connection to the real world around us should be an essential part of our future. At the same time, we are painfully aware of many of the darker aspects of travel. For one thing, we have seen the environmental havoc that mass tourism can wreak on local ecosystems. And let's not even mention the footprint of flights, car journeys and other travel related activities.
As we firmly believe that travel must contribute to a sustainable, healthy and socially just world, we want to train our digital assistant in topics like conservation, permaculture, social equality and other areas. That way, she may even be able to use her intellectual superpowers to help us turn every travel experience into a true win-win-win for all parties involved.
In order to get ourselves started, we will use an open source Large Language Model and train and fine-tune it in a specific travel, sustainability and social impact related knowledge base.
As we are aware that much of today's canon of knowledge (at least when it comes to what one can find on the internet and in books), has many biases woven into it, we will actively go out into the world and seek to include alternative ways of thinking about, looking at and relating to the world in training our digital assistant. Instead of only looking at the commonly available knowledge sources, we will actively seek out a diverse group of experts in fields like marine conservation, sustainable living models and different types of social impact.
We have decided to name this digital travel assistant "Aruanda", a word that derives from the Afro-Brazilian slaves and is symbolic of their yearning to return back home to paradise. While over time, the word "Aruanda" has come to denote a heaven that is home to the spirits, the root of the word lies in the African city “Luanda”, reminding us that paradise isn't some kind of abstract place up in the clouds. It is simply the home we yearn to return to.
Just like the slaves yearned to return to their homeland, humanity needs to return to a deeper connection with our environment. And we hope that Aruanda can help us get there.
We’re building an open-source, self-hosted personal digital assistant. Learn more about our project here.Your data, your rules
While we have already started working on this project, there are many things yet to be figured out and learned. Apart from the many ethical questions the creation of a powerful personal assistant brings up, there may be many unforeseen problems and unanticipated side effects we will need to deal with.
This is one of the reasons we have decided to talk and write about this process in public. At this stage, I have more questions than answers, but I do believe that we cannot leave this topic to big tech or other profit-minded players.
As we strive to create a digital assistant that can actually help us improve our reality instead of exasperating the existing problems in our world, we need more people to get involved.
We do not have all the answers (quite the opposite), so we would love to hear from you if you have any questions, criticisms, suggestions or ideas.
The decision to share our thoughts and ideas publicly, as we start going about creating and training said digital assistant, is a conscious one. By making our process, ideas and questions public, we actively encourage you to get involved and help us go beyond our limitations.
Are you in?
*Kindling values diversity and freedom of speech. Different perspectives are presented in our blog posts and interviews, but interviewees' opinions don't necessarily reflect Kindling's views. Readers should exercise discernment.*